In far West Africa some two million people form the nation of Mauritania, a desert almost the size of Texas and California combined.  With over 500 miles of coastline there must be some fantastic beaches.  But there's no tourism.  The capital city, Nouakchott, lies 300 hard miles north of the metropolis of Dakar in Senegal.  Dakar is where most of Mauritania's business
gets done.  Everywhere else is too far away across the desert.  People are all over the desert looking for oil when politics allow, but so far Mauritania has not struck it rich.  Salt mining is a traditional occupation, and lately iron, copper, and gypsum have been extracted, but the modern nation has never paid its costs.  France is the major backer.
    A lot of people in the northern desert are nomads, herding their flocks in a tradition dating back to before the time of Abraham.  Like most herding cultures, they have been fond of raiding and robbing and enslaving the local agriculturists whenever possible.  Over the centuries, the major nomad tribes in Mauritania developed among themselves, as it were, proprietary looting rights in strips of the southern farming regions, whose inhabitants, though not at all peaceful, found themselves at a disadvantage against the nomads, and eventually forced to submit.  Thus it was that some significant proportion
of the southern population found itself bound in serfdom and/or chattel slavery to nomads.
    Slavery was a normal way of life everywhere until the 19th century, and even then, when the French were becoming really active in West Africa, it was such a large territory, there was so much to do!  In the upshot, aside from an emancipation proclamation of sorts in 1908, not much was done.  The neglect of the problem continued after independence.  Mauritania finally formally proscribed slavery in 1980, and there is no doubt that some of the employment relationships in that country are still involuntary.
    The predatory relationship of the north upon the south is at least two thousand years old.  During the Roman era, when the coasts of modern Morocco and Algeria formed the province they called Mauretania, the introduction of the camel allowed the development of caravan trade between the Mediterranean coast and the fertile south, where slaves and gold were to be found.  The guidance and protection of the caravans became a nomad enterprise.
    In the 9th century a group of nomads, Berbers of the Sanhaja clan, took a northern outpost of the Ghana empire, a caravan station called Audaghost.  A resurgent Ghana recaptured Audaghost in 990, throwing the Berbers back into the desert.  Not too long after that some of the Sanhaja chiefs converted to Islam, and Berber society was structured such that in no time virtually all the nomads had converted with them.  Adopting a position of extreme zealotry, the united nomads, known as the Almoravids, prosecuted Holy War against both the south and the north, conquering Ghana in 1076 and spreading northward as
far as Spain.  During their century of power they struck gold dinars from their capital, Sijilmasa in Morocco, and other mints in Spain and North Africa.  But none hail from their homeland in Mauritania.
    The Almoravid dynasty deteriorated after about 100 years, leaving anarchy in the wake of its demise.  Into the political vacuum stormed a hoard of Bedouin migrants from Arabia.  Tens of thousands of them spread across North Africa over several centuries, overrunning the Berber tribes with both numbers and ferocity.  The resisting Berbers retreated into the desert, where they became the Tuareg and their relatives.  Those who submitted mingled with the Arab conquerors and became the people known to us as the Moors.
    The Moors set up essentially normal Arab emirates in the Mauritanian territory.  None of them are known to have issued coins.
    The Portuguese sailed by during their explorations, and in 1461 set up a trading station on Arguin island.  Over three centuries the station was successively occupied by Dutch, English, and finally French agents, who were chiefly interested in a slice of the trade in that uniquely useful plant product: gum arabic.
    During the 19th century the Mauritanian emirs became less cooperative with the French traders, who found their profits being squeezed.  Military missions were dispatched from Senegal to pacify the hinterland.  Early in this current century administration was conducted from Dakar, but in 1904 it was separated from that colony, and in 1920 it was incorporated into French West Africa, though the capital remained in the town of St. Louis in Senegal until 1957!
    The territory was difficult to govern.  Much of the population was bellicose and always on the move.  Vendetta warfare was constant.  The French naturally tended to concentrate their energy where the money was, and to neglect less profitable regions like Mauritania.
    The territory acquired a governing assembly in 1946, along with representation in the French parliament.  In 1958 it voted to become a member of the proposed French Community, and independence came in 1960.  The leader, Mokhtar Ould Daddah, was a northerner.  The political winds in Africa were blowing militantly nationalist.  Daddah promoted an activist mass party, in
1966 withdrew his country from the French Community, and in 1973 launching his own currency, the ouguiya.
    Mauritania quarreled with Morocco over the disposition of the Western Sahara, formerly held by Spain.  An agreement was reached dividing the territory, but an independence movement sprang up, backed by relatively oil-rich Algeria, that has endured to this day.  Mauritania found itself sucked into the conflict.  Things went badly, and in 1978 the army kicked out strongman Daddah and ended Mauritanian involvement by abandoning the claim.  Military government in the '80s was succeeded by a new, democratic constitution in 1991.  Many parties now contend in the legislator, but the president is a colonel.  The country is trying to play by the rules, and is making payments on its debts, but most of the people are still nomadic herders, still bent on enslaving the southerners.  They find no incentive to change.
    Not too many people go to Mauritania, so it's coins are not very common.  With about 160 ouguiyas to the US dollar the currency is actually worth something compared with the CFA franc.  The 20 ouguiya coin will exchange at 12 US cents, as against their SCWC value of 8.00 in uncirculated.  Well, actually, there are small quantities of Mauritanian coins on the market, so that it is usually possible to find them at a discount, but they will still go for 30 times their face value or more.  Only one coin is common in the market: the aluminum khoum.  It was worthless when it was issued, and as they have been trickling out the price has been dropping steadily over the years.
    Mauritania was involved in the 1984 Mystery Sports Promotion along with other nations without influence like Bhutan, Congo, and Guinea-Bissau.  Some of the involved nations repudiated the coins issued in their names.  There never were that many around.  Now they're hard to find.  I have seen the 1975 gold coin.  I have not seen the 1973 double mint set.  I know of no tokens.